Book List

Reviewing the Legends: Fiction

EAST OF EDEN

Tremendous in scope—tremendous in depth of penetration—and as different a Steinbeck as the Steinbeck of Burning Bright was from the Steinbeck of The Grapes of Wrath.

Here is no saga of the underprivileged—no drama of social significance. Tenderness, which some felt was inherent in everything Steinbeck wrote, is muted almost to the vanishing point in this story of conflict within character, impact of character on character, of circumstances on personalities, of the difficult acceptance of individual choice as against the dominance of inherited traits. The philosophy is intimately interwoven with the pace of story, as he follows-from New England to California over some fifty odd years-the two families which hold stage center. There are the Trasks, brothers in two generations, strangely linked, strangely at war the one with the other; there are the Hamiltons (John Steinbeck's own forebears), a unique Irish born couple, the man an odd lovable sort of genius who never capitalizes on his ideas for himself, the tiny wife, tart, cold-and revealing now and again unexpected gentleness of spirit, the burgeoning family, as varied a tribe as could be found. And- on the periphery but integral to the deepening philosophy which motivates the story, there is the wise Chinese servant scholar and gentleman, who submerges his own goals to identify himself wholly with the needs of the desolate Adam Trask, crushed by his soulless wife's desertion, and the twin boys, Cal, violent, moody, basically strong enough to be himself—and Aron, gentle, unwilling to face disagreeable facts, beloved by all who met him. In counterpoint, the story follows too the murky career of Adam's wife, Cathy—who came to him from a mysteriously clouded past, and returned to a role for which she was suited—as a costly whore, and later as Madame in Salinas most corrupt "house," where the perversions of sex ridden males were catered to—and cruelty capitalized upon.

Shock techniques applied with rapier and not bludgeon will rule the book out for the tender-skinned. But John Steinbeck, the philosopher, dominates his material and brings it into sharply moral focus.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 1952

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 616

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1952

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER

A strange and powerful book, standing quite apart from anything I can recall.

The scene is a small Southern mill town; the central figure is a mute, a quiet, tolerant man to whom four people turn to express their individual hopes and beliefs. His very silence endows him in their eyes with a godlike quality; his human fallibilities are shut within his silence. There is a Negro doctor, struggling for the elevation of his race; there is an agitator, trying to show the world the injustices of the capitalistic system; there is an appealing girl of twelve, whose gift for music is frustrated by poverty and ignorance. The close of the book is confessed defeat for all.

Direct, uncompromising, a distinguished piece of writing whose very subject matter will make it almost impossible to sell.

Pub Date: June 4, 1940

ISBN: 0618526412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1940

Certain to create interest, comment, and consideration.

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR

The Book-of-the-Month Club dual selection, with John Gunther's Behind the Curtain (1949), for July, this projects life under perfected state controls.

It presages with no uncertainty the horrors and sterility, the policing of every thought, action and word, the extinction of truth and history, the condensation of speech and writing, the utter subjection of every member of the Party. The story concerns itself with Winston, a worker in the Records Department, who is tormented by tenuous memories, who is unable to identify himself wholly with Big Brother and The Party. It follows his love for Julia, who also outwardly conforms, inwardly rebels, his hopefulness in joining the Brotherhood, a secret organization reported to be sabotaging The Party, his faith in O'Brien, as a fellow disbeliever, his trust in the proles (the cockney element not under the organization) as the basis for an overall uprising. But The Party is omniscient, and it is O'Brien who puts him through the torture to cleanse him of all traitorous opinions, a terrible, terrifying torture whose climax, keyed to Winston's most secret nightmare, forces him to betray even Julia. He emerges, broken, beaten, a drivelling member of The Party. Composed, logically derived, this grim forecasting blueprints the means and methods of mass control, the techniques of maintaining power, the fundamentals of political duplicity, and offers as arousing a picture as the author's previous Animal Farm.

Certain to create interest, comment, and consideration.

Pub Date: June 13, 1949

ISBN: 0452284236

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1949

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD

I loved Jonah's Gourd Vine—thought some of her short stories very fine—and feel that this measures up to the promise of the early books.

Authentic picture of Negroes, not in relation to white people but to each other. An ageing grandmother marries off her granddaughter almost a child to a middle-aged man for security—and she leaves him when she finds that her dreams are dying, and goes off with a dapper young Negro, full of his own sense of power and go-getter qualities. He takes her to a mushroom town, buys a lot, puts up a store and makes the town sit up and take notice. His success goes to his head—their life becomes a mockery of her high hopes. And after his death, she goes off with a youth who brings her happiness and tragedy.

A poignant story, told with almost rhythmic beauty.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1937

ISBN: 0060199490

Page Count: 231

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1937

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

The previous books of this author (Devil of a State, 1962; The Right to an Answer, 1961) had valid points of satire, some humor, and a contemporary view, but here the picture is all out—from a time in the future to an argot that makes such demands on the reader that no one could care less after the first two pages.

If anyone geta beyond that—this is the first person story of Alex, a teen-age hoodlum, who, in step with his times, viddies himself and the world around him without a care for law, decency, honesty; whose autobiographical language has droogies to follow his orders, wallow in his hate and murder moods, accents the vonof human hole products. Betrayed by his dictatorial demands by a policing of his violence, he is committed when an old lady dies after an attack; he kills again in prison; he submits to a new method that will destroy his criminal impulses; blameless, he is returned to a world that visits immediate retribution on him; he is, when an accidental propulsion to death does not destroy him, foisted upon society once more in his original state of sin.

What happens to Alex is terrible but it is worse for the reader.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 1962

ISBN: 0393928098

Page Count: 357

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1962

Those who pass time with the Señor will find this a luxuriant, splendid and spirited conception.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE

Those (guessably not the general reader) who do not find the labyrinthine configurations of Señor Garcia-Marquez's mighty myth impregnable, and at times interminable, will be rewarded by this story of one hundred years and six generations in the peaceful, primal and ageless world of Macondo.

This is where his earlier No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories (1968) took place and it also features the same Buendia clan and its Colonel, a figure of dauntless energy and pride and stamina who carries on 32 small wars and fathers 17 sons by 17 wives. The Buendias are, for more direct purposes of identification, deliberately inseparable by name (and impulse—incest abounds) in spite of the helpful family tree frontispiece. At a rough count there are four Arcadios from the sire Jose Arcadio and six Aurelianos, including a pair of twins. Perhaps it does not matter since they all share to a degree the stubborn simplicity and outsized contours of comic folk characters. But if Senor Garcia-Marquez' book is fable, it is also satire with some of the fanciful giantism of earlier proponents (cf. the sections on war or government and the finally perceived "emptiness' of the former). For a time the Buendias remain untouched in their innocent world and are stunningly surprised by the artifacts of civilization which reach them—ice or false teeth. And even though they are afraid of a horrible precedent (a child born with a pig's tail) they pursue their closely inbred ways. But the incursions from elsewhere and above persist: there's the early plague of insomnia to the later four year, eleven month, two day rain. In the beginning so full of life, the Buendias give way to death and dispersion, and the last scenes of great-great-great-grandmother Ursula, living in the somnolent margins of memory, have great pathos. "Time passes. That's how it goes, but not so much" is a byword of the Buendias.

Those who pass time with the Señor will find this a luxuriant, splendid and spirited conception.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 1969

ISBN: 006112009X

Page Count: 417

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

TENDER IS THE NIGHT

Again an author who has built up a more or less established market, and his non appearance (in book form) over a period of several years, has stimulated interest in this first full length work since the publication of The Great Gatsby.

A story of a psychiatrist, and of his lovely wife — a marriage, on the surface ideally happy, but eaten underneath by the insecurity of its basis, and the coils that riches have placed around the husband. Against a background of the Riviera, of Paris, of Switzerland and a mental sanitarium, the drama is played out. The comparison with Private Worlds, which is inevitable, is not a sound one. The selling point of this book is the story itself, the almost morbid fascination of the lurking mystery, the deft shift of atmosphere from the gay nonchalance of the Riviera sands, to the horrors of the tragedy in a Paris hotel, and the final, and rather unexpected denouement. The psychological aspects are neither so sound nor so interesting as the Bottome book. This is for a less serious audience — though not the college crowd that drank in his early books. Not wholly satisfactory, in final analysis — but good reading.

Headlined as the leading book on the publisher's list and sure of a good send-off.

Pub Date: April 1, 1934

ISBN: 068480154X

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1934

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

These stories are gentle, delicate and almost sound.

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S

Excursions into other worlds of other depths have been the source material and trademark of Capote's literary career.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, a novelette and three short stories, is no exception and bears the indelible mark of Capote and an indication of his literary maturation. Holly Golightly, the heroine of the novelette, is the neurotic product of experience as child-bride, girl-about-New York, pay-as-you-play. Innocent services to a dear Mr. Sally Tomato result in her complicity in gangsterdom. She takes a quick trip to Rio and soon discovers rich and duhvine Senor, forgetting, thereby, the insults wafted by a rich Brazilian of indefinable vocation, a Hollywood VIP, and a lost cat. The short stories, notably "House of Flowers," are more reasonable. A girl from the mountains, who had turned prostitute, gives up all for love; an old prisoner revives his interest in life when Tico Feo, a soft-spoken Cuban boy, plays his diamond guitar; recollections of fruit-cake-making by a young child and his friend, an old woman. The vague undertones of homosexuality and the elements of weirdness are not as pronounced as in former books.

These stories are gentle, delicate and almost sound.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1959

ISBN: 0307456323

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1958

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